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The Work of Loneliness: Solitude, Emptiness, and Compassion

Douglas Burton-Christie

This essay considers the meaning of solitude in the spiritual life, especially as it comes to expression in the Christian monasatic tradition, from the witness of the ancient desert monks to the life and works of Thomas Merton. It argues for a vision of solitude that understands deep vulnerability and uncertainty as significant elements in the process of coming to know God, and that sees solitary struggle as leading to a profound resituating of the self in relation to human community. Transformed by solitude, the self becomes a bearer of compassion, a witness to the mysterious presence of God in the lonely places of human existence.

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